It is August, midway through the second term of a term-limited governor. The Legislature isn’t in session. Ordinarily this would be a period of political doldrums in which little attention is drawn to the teeming swamp of Bayou State politics. The accelerant for political activity usually occurs in the third-year of a lame duck governor’s term when the focus begins to hone in more directly on who the next governor will be. However, that isn’t quite the case this go-around.
The recent retirement announcement of Congressman Rodney Alexander breathes life into the politics of late summer. Alexander is the dean of Louisiana’s House delegation. He sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee, which means his departure is a big deal. Alexander switched from Democrat to Republican right before the filing deadline for his 2004 re-election campaign. Democrats roundly criticized him. “Coward” and “traitor” were some of the epithets hurled his way by the party faithful for the switch. Nevertheless, his realignment was part of a shift among white Democratic elected officials to the Republican Party.
A special election will be October 19 to select Alexander’s replacement in an open primary. If no candidate wins that primary outright, a general election will occur on November 16. As often happens in politics, the special election could set off a chain reaction. State Senator Neil Riser has already announced his candidacy for Alexander’s seat. Much of Riser’s huge Senate district is congruent to Alexander’s district so he begins with an advantage. The fact that several GOP members of the Congressional delegation have quickly endorsed him also gives him a leg up. If Riser wins, a mad scramble will begin for his state senate seat. Rumors—the nectar of political junkies—indicate that several former legislators could vie for that seat.
Alexander’s resignation is simply a hors d’oeuvre for what will follow in 2014 when Senator Mary Landrieu runs for re-election. Her major opponent likely will be current 6th District Congressman Bill Cassidy. While there may be other candidates in the race, it is unlikely that they will have the financial resources to challenge an incumbent U.S. Senator with a massive war chest. Landrieu will certainly play up the value of her seniority in a delegation short on that valuable commodity. Cassidy will attempt to capitalize on Landrieu’s deciding vote for ObamaCare and tie her to an unpopular President Obama as much as possible. Cassidy has to relinquish his House seat to run for the Senate. That will likely set off another game of musical chairs among officer holders to fill his 6th District seat.
As interesting as the congressional races will be next year—and they will be interesting—they too are simply a warm-up act for the 2015 governor’s race. One big shoe that needs to drop before that race gets any clarity is whether our other U.S. Senator, David Vitter, will make the race. He has the luxury of seeing if the GOP can take over the U.S. Senate Majority next year. Being a majority member with some seniority is much different than being a member of the minority. Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, Treasurer John Kennedy, and other Republicans are seriously eyeing the race. State Representative John Bel Edwards is the only serious Democratic candidate that has announced intentions to run at this point. The key question on the Democratic side is whether a serious African-American candidate will enter the race.
The political calendar is moving toward the end of the dog days of summer in what is ordinarily not a highly active year in Louisiana politics. Congressman Alexander’s resignation is changing that equation and it could usher in an early beginning to the political wars of 2014-2015.